Elephant Trek Day!
We got our guide to drive us up to a small farming village called Pouton. A very rural and simplistic countryside village with baby piglets and chicks roaming the dirt track. This was to be the setting for the start of our elephant adventure. Upon arriving we were welcomed into the elephants owners hut. One big room and an added on shed for cooking. In the shed a woman was plucking the feathers off a newly dead chicken ready for the evenings dinner I guess, while the young puppies played with all the loose feathers on the floor. This was another one of those back to basics moments.
Leaving the hut we were led around the corner, and though we knew we were being taken to the elephant, seeing it with a Cambodian man sitting on the neck, set in this old time village environment took my breath away and almost couldn't believe what we were about to do. We had to climb wooden steps onto a platform to step onto the elephant. Stepping onto it's neck to climb in the basket sitting on its back, I felt bad treading on such a majestic creature this way. The elephants back was so hard and sturdy, I wasnt quite sure what I was expecting really. The hairs on the top of its head will be one feature I wont forget. Black, coarse hairs almost as thick as the bristles on a hairbrush.
As we trekked for an hour and a half through the jungle I was amazed at the elephant being as huge as it is could walk down such steep and slippery muddy hills. It was during these moments that our knuckles were white as we gripped hold of the basket, and I hoped the animal wasn't suffering for it. Along the way he was tearing leaves off tree's and chunks of grass off their roots every few steps it took. It was interesting to see how much this animal ate so constantly, but being the size it is you can see why it has to. We could enjoy moments of laughter as the thud of falling steaming poo is heard behind us and the unmistakeable sound of bubbling farts.
We eventually arrived at our rest point where we were able to stretch our cramped legs and have our lunch. We rested by the part of a river that flows deep into the jungle and a great place to stare at the scenery in reflection, taking in every detail. When going for a short wander we came across the biggest and scariest spider we have ever seen, of course we have a picture :)
This part of our day was my top highlight as our Cambodian guide walked the elephant into the river and gestured for us to come in and join him. I kept my shoes on as I didn't want to tread on anything slimey on the river floor. I was gestured to climb onto the elephants back and wash him as he was very dirty. He was so funny at times as he completely submerged his head and rolled his entire body under water even though it was chest deep for me. When Fay got into the water she found it hard to know where abouts parts of the elephant was. Because it was totally submerged one minute his head would pop up but then the next his leg would be where his head was. Without any warning he decided he'd had enough swimming for one day and rising to his feet started walking up the banks of the river, with me still on. This was simply incredible, I was riding an elephant bareback! I felt like Tarzan or Ace Ventura at one with this wild animal. Without the basket on the back the spine made for some uncomfortable sitting, but I was still smiling :)
The ride back to base was a slow white knuckle ride back up the steep slippery hills of the Cambodian Jungle. The animal amazed us at how steardy he was on his feet, we were praying he was otherwise I don't think we could survive an elephant crushing us!
On our journey back to the village the mahout told us we could ride the elephant by sitting on his neck (he did this in sign language of course). Fay went first and rode the elephant like a pro. Stroking his head and keeping her feet ticked behind the elephants ears it is hard to take in what she was actually doing. When I eventually got my turn however, I found it incredibly difficult to balance. So because of this my whole body was so tense I could not relax at all and so was unable to enjoy it as much. Especially when the elephant starts scratching its bottom on a post, I'm terrified of falling off from that height.
We got back to the Village at about 3pm. It had been a long trek and we agreed that 6 hours was definately long enough. It wasn't as comfortable as they make out in the movies, but it was an experience that we will never forget and opportunities like that don't come around easily. As we strolled back into the village we saw that there may have been half a dozen and a dozen other tourists who had paid to go on smaller 15minute rides. We just hoped the elephant wasn't being pushed too hard, and that she would get plenty of rest as we could feel her shivering during the final half hour as the wind began to pick up.
It was now time to say goodbye to our friend for the day and wait for our motorbike taxi... where was he???